Weeds: a year, unfortunately, to remember | News, Sports, Jobs
Fifty years ago the carpenters sang, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” Karen and Richard have never farmed during a drought. If we had a rainy day, I would throw a party.
My poor wife has chosen this year to reduce her work and be more around me. She often hears me talking about the crops and the weather. Many. Too much. Pam likes to point out that there is nothing I can do about the lack of rain. This is not true; I can complain about it.
The bad days and bad years on the farm remain more engraved in my memory than the good ones. The equipment stuck in the mud, the bad aphid year when yields declined, the fall when the black nightshade clogged the combine: all of this is alive in my mind. Good years come and go unannounced.
I do not know why. It’s the other way around with people. There, I’m good enough to let bad things go. The memories I have of people in my life are much more good than bad. Grudges fade into the haze.
It’s too early to know for sure, but 2021 is shaping up to be an unforgettable year. The years 1976 and 1988 are used as comparisons. I was a middle school student in the first and a young farmer trying to pay bills in the second. Now I’m an old farmer still paying bills. We’ve had dry years since, but none where you wouldn’t use the word D. Drought.
I’m talking about “we” although most of us don’t own a tractor. A lot of jobs here are related to agriculture. Even if you are not a farmer, most of us have a garden that needs more attention. Or you have to water your lawn. Maybe you just have a higher electric bill to run the AC. Either way, a drought affects everyone.
Much of the wealth created in the Midwest comes from the fields. The money available to farmers flows through the economy like water flowing in a rapid. It is now impossible to project the economic impact of this time, but it will be something.
The crops we grow depend on the soil, the sun and the rain. I always say that the harvest is about 95 percent of what nature does and a small percentage of what I do. When any of these ingredients are scarce, it’s not good. We had a dry fall and a dry spring, which made life much easier for the farmers during harvesting and planting. You need to avoid a combine fire in the fall and find moisture for your seeds in the spring. If you can do that, the job is better than fighting the mud.
In fact, our month of July was typically hot and dry. But June, hoo boy! June was like none we’ve seen. We had less than an inch of rain which I wouldn’t have thought possible. Three years ago we were eleven inches in June; more than five is common. We had several days in the 90s in June with Saharan winds blowing, sucking moisture from everything from the ground to our skin. Two foot tall corn plants with curled leaves were a strange sight.
I’ve always said we’d do well in the dry years because if it’s 100 degrees in Illinois it will be 90 here. The exact opposite of this was true in our Hell-June. Since June we have had a little humidity and more normal temperatures. It has helped some. Otherwise, I might have looked at camel prices online.
Interestingly, a few agricultural meteorologists I pay attention to were talking about drought last winter. La Nina, or Pacific Cooling, is in place and this often triggers a dry northwest in North America and a normal eastern side. Even though we had a dry fall, I assumed this line would be somewhere near Sioux Falls. Instead, we got a diagonal line across the Corn Belt. To the south and east, we’re talking about 300 bushels of corn. North and West, something less. Maybe a lot less; we cannot yet know.
If I want to get paranoid, I think of Elwyn Taylor. Elwyn is now retired, but for years was the Iowa State climatologist. In this role, he was the meteorologist of the Corn Belt. I used to religiously listen to his reporting on Iowa Public Radio to get the big picture.
Elwyn always talked about weather cycles, some short, some long. One of the longest is a ninety-year drought cycle in the middle of our continent. It fell in the 1930s and we called it the Dust Bowl. If you want to worry about staying awake at night, look ninety years away.
My parents got married in 1934 and began their life together in the midst of those infamous drought years. I heard stories about it growing up. We still have a giant 50 gallon Red Wing jar where my mom kept some sauerkraut and salted meat which was most of what they must have eaten for a few winters. I told Pam that maybe we should google some sauerkraut recipes if it’s not raining.
Now, we also need to superimpose the ancient Elwyn cycles on the global warning caused by a few centuries of burning fossil fuels. It gets incredibly complex. We may not know the exact evil that follows, but we can be sure that it is there. All these solar panels and wind generators are a first attempt to solve this problem. I am encouraged by them, but climate change is a giant liner that we are trying to overturn.
I have always enjoyed the gradual shift in the seasons and the daily changes in the weather. In broad settings, each day has a myriad of possible combinations of sunshine, clouds, air pressure, breeze, wind, humidity, etc. It is still true. But there is a similarity to the days when you want rain. Every day I wake up, and it’s never too long until I realize it’s another dry day. There is boredom and boredom there.
As Pam can tell you, I like to think of extremes. So I come to see this summer as a laborious walk through the desert. In the Bible, the desert is the place where God’s people feel abandoned. This is the place of banishment. Maybe it is a punishment for my sins, calling me to repent.
Or maybe I was too exposed to the scorching sun. Maybe it’s time to take a cold Schell’s out of the fridge.